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Ken Keller: Suggested summer reading

Brain Food for Business People

Posted: June 1, 2010 3:25 p.m.
Updated: June 2, 2010 4:55 a.m.

In the best-selling book "Talent Is Overrated," author Geoff Colvin states that everyone can learn, but suggests an education program that makes sense on an individual basis.

If learning is seen as three concentric circles, the inner circle would be labeled the "comfort zone."

The middle circle would be the "learning zone" and the outer circle the "uncomfortable zone."

Colvin suggests that only by choosing activities within the "learning zone" can one make progress as an owner and manager of people and processes. That is because in the "comfort zone" people already have the knowledge and use it easily.

A subject in the "uncomfortable zone" makes people go to great lengths to avoid even attempting the subject matter, simply because they know they will not do well.

What topics do most owners need to learn more about? On my list, based on observational research, the subjects include managing change within an organization; effective expense-reduction strategies; dealing with different personalities at work; understanding why people come to work and how to get the best from them on the job; better marketing for better clients; having difficult conversations with underperforming employees, particularly if those employees have significant tenure with the company; and improving teamwork.

With that in mind, here is a list of suggested reading that most owners would find within their own personal "learning zone."

"Who Moved My Cheese?" by Spencer Johnson, M.D. remains not just a favorite, but a wonderful learning tool. This book remains a bestseller years after first published, telling a story about how things never stay the same, and that we must always be seeking "new cheese."

This book is so valuable and so enjoyable that taking a short time to reread it every year is highly recommended.

David W. Young's book, "A Manager's Creative Guide to Cost Cutting," is well worth the time to review. While many of the ideas to reduce costs are known and probably used daily, there are 181 ways explained in detail about how to build the bottom line of any organization.

"The Four Elements of Success" is a different look at personalities at work. Author Laurie Beth Jones follows her previous books, using the Bible as a basis for personal and organizational development.

Brian Tracy's "Many Miles To Go" is his story of a journey he took as a young man. Starting with four friends in British Columbia, they encountered obstacles and learned a great deal about themselves and each other before arriving at their final destination in South Africa. This is an excellent book for individuals going through any transition in life, from starting junior high to beginning retirement.

"The One Thing You Need To Know" is Marcus Buckingham's book on business management. Based on research and observations made while surveying more than 2 million workers, he restates what it takes to engage employees and to lead an organization to success through daily habits.

"Marketing Kit for Dummies" is an excellent primer for boosting profits and staying focused on gaining and retaining clients. Even the most experienced and talented marketer would benefit from doing the exercises offered in this book.

Susan Scott's "Fierce Conversations" follows along the lines of Jim Collin's "Good to Great." Collins suggests that every organization "face the brutal facts," and Scott takes it to an individual level, focusing on the need to have conversations that are not always pleasant but help to gain a better understanding of individuals, their motivations and desired goals.

"The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" is one of Patrick Lencioni's series ("Death by Meeting," "The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive" and "The Five Temptations of a CEO") on business management. What makes his books different is that they are parables that engage the reader simply because anyone employed today can relate to the characters.

Take time this summer to further your business education by enjoying a book or two. Just one idea can make a significant difference for you, your employees, your clients and your vendors.

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Brain Food for Business People" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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